Naively, when I set about authoring Buckinghamshire County Council's Freight Strategy in 2017, I didn't expect the subject of hauling goods around in containers and trailers to resonate with people… how wrong I was.
In total, more than 1,000 people engaged in the development of the strategy. To put this in context, the online survey I setup to collect feedback on the document itself received more responses than the total number received for the Council's statutory Local Transport Plan 4: I know because I ran both consultations.
The bulk of the feedback told me that managing freight was a balancing act.
Somehow we need to manage the impact of goods vehicles on the environment and infrastructure, whilst recognising the role they play in servicing industries, communities, and supporting our growth and economic potential - not to mention the net contribution it makes to GVA in its own right.
I now find myself overseeing a freight study for the entire Heartland region. Setting the right conditions so freight can flourish in the Heartland is key, that's why the study we're currently producing is so important. Planning now for the future movement of goods, services and materials will lead to an even stronger and more sustainable economy; whilst opening the door to international investors.
Whether it's the delivery of the Heartland's major infrastructure projects, or the laptop I'm using, assembly and distribution of both require network and places designed with freight in mind. Whilst more deliveries by road can signify a thriving economy, freight is almost a victim of its own success. The rise of ecommerce has seen a sharp increase in LGVs and some of the HGVs account for around 20% of traffic on some parts of our network.
The National Infrastructure Commission's own freight report, due in spring 2019, should help central Government form a clearer direction of travel on the subject.
England's Economic Heartland must take the initiative and understand from a policy perspective what we can do to harness the region's freight needs, as consumers and businesses.
To do this a much greater representation from businesses in the development of this study is required.
We're trying to capture that business and industry voice during a workshop we're running in Milton Keynes (5th December) and I would welcome anyone interested in engaging in this study to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Antony Swift is a Project Lead for England's Economic Heartland